Ben & Jerry’s sues owner Unilever over Israel boycott row

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Ben & Jerry’s is suing parent company Unilever for ending its boycott of occupied Palestinian territories, saying the decision has harmed the “social integrity” of the ethical ice cream brand.

The US ice cream company is seeking an injunction after Unilever last week announced it had sold its interest in the ice cream to Israeli licence-holder Avi Zinger, allowing Ben & Jerry’s to be stocked again in shops. 

In a complaint filed at a US district court, Ben & Jerry’s said the legal action was “essential to… protect the brand and social integrity Ben & Jerry’s has spent decades building”. 

Unilever’s decision was made without the consent of Ben & Jerry’s independent board. It goes against an agreement when it was bought by Unilever that gave the brand the ability to protect its founder’s values and reputation, the complaint said.

Ben & Jerry’s announced in July last year that it would no longer sell its ice cream in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, which the Jewish state seized in 1967, saying that it would be “inconsistent with our values” to continue doing so.

However, Zinger had continued to produce the ice cream in his factory in the suburbs of Tel Aviv and distribute it to the Israeli settlements, going against Ben & Jerry’s decision.

Hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers live in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem, in communities widely regarded as illegal under international law.

Palestinians cheered the company’s move last year, seen as a victory for the BDS movement, which calls for boycott, divestment and sanctions of the Jewish state over what it describes as the mistreatment of Palestinians.

Announcing an end to the boycott last week, Unilever said that “antisemitism has no place in society”.

Founded in the US in 1978, Ben & Jerry’s is known for championing progressive causes, including protecting the environment and promoting human rights, and has frequently released special ice cream flavors to support causes or in protest.

Unilever, which last week said it had “never expressed any support” for the BDS movement, defended its right to execute the transaction.

On Tuesday, the business said: “As we said in our statement of June 29, Unilever had the right to enter this arrangement.

“The deal has already closed. We do not comment on pending litigation.”

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